Let's keep this short and sweet. Despite some outstanding visuals, the problem with M. Night Shyamalan's The Last Airbender is that it lacks all the humor and heart of the original anime. The joys of the story—Aang's impish capriciousness, Katara's valiance, Soka's buffoonery, even Uncle Iroh's avuncular charm—have all been eliminated in favor of anger, shame and earnest regret. Only Dav Patel's tortured portrayal of exiled Prince Zuko comes anywhere near to humanizing his character and—as the first menacing reviews prophesy—he's not going to have much chance to do more than that. This franchise is going down in flames, courtesy of the Fire Nation.
I appreciate the visuals. I really do. The elements pit against each other have never looked so beautiful. And I bet they cost a lot. But it doesn't justify Shyamalan's eschewal of the anime's essential charm. Does Aang ever smile in Shyamalan's vision? Soka cracks maybe one lame joke. And much too much is made of his quickly fashioned and tragically lost dalliance with Princess Yue (the audience actually started to titter from boredom). And worst of all the film's final confrontation—which should have been a frighteningly destructive exhibition of the Avatar's wrath—is tamed to a threatening overhanging wave. So what? I wanted to see the destruction of the Fire Nation's fleet in a whirling vortex of elements. Instead I got the Hollow Man in the audience chiding, "This is how the franchise ends. With a whimper and not a bang."
Cross-published on Twitch.